Dog knowledge is accumulated on the shoulders of those who go before us, each generation a bit closer to the inception of certain breeds than those of us here in the 21st century. If we’re lucky, serious students of the breeds in which we’re interested put their thoughts to paper, and in that vein, among our recent discoveries is C. Bede Maxwell (her body of work with the British Museum and the Kennel Club, however, hardly makes her new to dogdom). Though our post is about the Field Spaniel, we know our readership, and we know that among you are people who need only the flimsiest excuse to buy another book on dogs. Trust us. A book written by C. Bede Maxwell is worth having (and now you have your excuse).
Our journey to C. Bede Maxwell actually started with a poem about Spaniels by George Turberville that began, “Of Spanels first I meane to speake,for they begin the glee….”
A promising beginning for, say, the Cocker Spaniel described as “merry,” but what has this to do with the Field Spaniel?
In the estimation of C. Bede Maxwell, the Field Spaniel is the likeliest basis for all modern spaniels, the embodiment of true working characteristics of this type of dog, and a breed that greatly influenced the Cocking, or Cocker Spaniel. She noted that in the 19th century, dog show classifications divided Field and Cocker Spaniels by weight, and that “a Cocker of this year could be a Field of next.”
Foolishly, the public’s head was turned by other breeds, but in the eyes of “real” dog men, the Field Spaniel retained its intrinsic value. Maxwell quotes Theo Marples who wrote of the Field Spaniel, ‘it is a most beautiful example of the Spaniel family whose architecture, head (beaming with intelligence), substance, coat and contour all spell UTILITY.’
Fittingly, Maxwell echoes Marples by saying that the Field Spaniel is a worker rather than a performer, and that the main concern of breeders is to keep the breed alive as a breed. These are very sobering words considering that she wrote them over 45 years ago. The Field Spaniel today is among the Kennel Club’s “vulnerable breeds,” dog breeds of British origin whose numbers are declining. In 2017, only 50 Field Spaniel were registered against a backdrop that considers anything less than 300 (our inference) not to be enough to sustain a population moving forward. #SaveOurBreeds